As India bowed down at Lord’s, there were disappointed faces in the Indian dressing room. There was no surprise. But the event was quite contrasting to that of 2014. For someone like Murali Vijay falling five runs short of getting his name at the honours board last time, he had attained a pair to commemorate this time around. Vijay has been a part of the Indian test team for almost a decade now. He is often regarded as the Monk in the Indian cricketing circles for his calm demeanour and grace under pressure.
With an experience of 59 tests, his foremost job in England was to see off the new ball pair of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. No doubt, it is a huge task for anyone playing in such overcast conditions. However, scores of 20, 6, 0 & 0 have failed to inspire any kind of confidence in his opening slot. At a time where different contenders are vying for the spot, Vijay has failed to live up to the expectations. However, it’s not that the other two have gained any impetus over him. A certain Shikhar Dhawan who looks completely out of sorts against the moving ball or an inexperienced KL Rahul who is still figuring out his front foot position in his first ever England tour.
What makes Murali Vijay standout in front of them is his ability to leave the ball. Unlike most of the Indian batsmen who have trouble in dealing with balls outside off, Vijay is a master of that. This is a significant reason why he was successful in the previous England tour. Ending up as the highest run-getter for India, he displayed his valour as a batsman in all conditions.
Over the last couple of years, Murali Vijay has scored four centuries in Test cricket. However, all of those have come against mediocre teams like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. In the Australian series at home, Vijay averaged 22.60 in 5 innings. At South Africa, it was even worse with an average of 17 in 6 innings. While his 46 at Centurion or his 127 ball stay at Wanderers were a testament to his strong resilience, it wasn’t quite impactful. Does that perceive him as someone who struggles in unfriendly conditions? Innings such as the 95 at Lord’s in 2014 clearly dismisses the notion of him being a flat track bully. Then what’s going wrong with Murali Vijay?
The biggest strength for any bowler in England is the swinging conditions at the offer. Moreover, the discipline with which Jimmy Anderson bowls makes him unplayable here. Previously, Vijay’s trick of leaving the balls outside off stump and only attempting the ones bowled at him worked big time in his favour. However, this time the England bowlers have bowled to him with a plan.
Both the times during the first Test match, Vijay was outdone with an inswinger. In the second test match, Jimmy Anderson set him up with a series of outswinging deliveries before bowling one on the line of the stumps. In the final innings at Lord’s, Anderson bowled an inswinger which barbed in quickly unsettling Vijay who nicked it.
Moreover, the biggest reason why Vijay has failed in England so far is that of his premeditated mindset. It seemed the Monk had prepared himself for the outswinging delivery even before the bowler has started his run up. In South Africa, it seemed that Vijay was trying to go for the deviated balls as well. However, when the approach didn’t come off, he switched back to his natural style of play.
What makes Virat Kohli better than anyone else is because he does an extra inch outside the field.
He thrives on improvising. Murali Vijay doesn’t need to look upon anyone else but the captain to inspire himself. There’s a lot of pressure on him to deliver. He might find himself in an unfamiliar territory but that’s how the audacity of any great player is measured. To rise in difficult conditions is something that will augur his prominence as a batsman.
You won’t ever see him display a lot of emotions on the field. He has always been known as a quintessential tough guy— strong, silent, and self-reliant. As India heads to Nottingham, Vijay has to step up at the top order. He needs to consolidate his weaknesses and turn the tide in India’s favour. Another string of low scores and he may well land at the bench. Also with age not at his side, he may not earn another respite especially with the emergence of youngsters like Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal. They would soon be knocking at the doors for the national team and no surprises to guess at whose cost.
His batting average has dipped below 40 at the moment. These aren’t good numbers for an opener of the No.1 ranked team in Tests. Throughout his career, he has shown all the makings of a classical test batsman. However, at the end of the day, it’s the performances that will matter. And if Vijay cannot sort them out in time, someone else will. The next few test matches will show what’s in store for him.